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What Eid Al Adha truly symbolises

Sumayyah Meehan
Filed on December 19, 2007

AS AN American convert to Islam, one of the questions my non-Muslim friends and family members often ask me is about animal sacrifice in Islam. From what they tell me, they feel that Muslims engage in ritualistic animal sacrifice in order to please God. This could not be further from the truth! Since the holiday of Eid Al Adha is upon us, I would like to dispel some myths about animal sacrifice in Islam and provide some answers to questions pertaining to what Eid Al Adha symbolises.

There are only two Eids that Muslims celebrate each year. The first is Eid Al Fitr that comes after Ramadan (the month of fasting) and the second one is Eid Al Adha, which translates into "The Festival of the Sacrifice". Eid Al Adha concludes the Haj or the pilgrimage to the holy city of Makkah. Pilgrims who have completed the Haj as well as Muslims all over the world make a sacrifice on this day. The sacrificial animal is usually a lamb or a goat. The reason Muslims do this is to commemorate the sacrifice that Abraham (Ibrahim) was willing to make for the sake of obeying God.

One night, Abraham had a dream that he sacrificed his son Ishmael on a stone altar. Of course, which father would not be distressed by a dream of killing his own son? Since Abraham believed that his dream came from God, he went to his son, who was just a boy, and told him about the dream. The boy immediately told his father that he should do as he was commanded. Both agreed. They went to the forest and the boy lay down. He was waiting for his father to kill him. The emotions both must have been going through were tremendous the boy watching his father about to kill him and the father, who was 97 years old, preparing to kill his beloved son. Without hesitation, Abraham prepared to strike his son with a large knife. But before he could do so, an angel appeared and told Abraham that his sacrifice had been accepted even though he had not shed a drop of his son's blood. Just the fact that he was willing to sacrifice his son showed his willingness to follow God's command. The father and the son found a ram nearby to sacrifice instead.

The sacrifice Muslims make on Eid Al Adha is not only symbolic, but it also serves a social purpose. Muslims who sacrifice an animal distribute the meat among their own families and the needy. Every year, at Haj, an estimated one million kilogrammes of meat are made available to the poor following the sacrifice. So, the sacrifice is not made to please God. It is a sacrifice of wealth and property. It costs money to buy an animal to sacrifice for Eid Al Adha and the price of lambs and goats goes up every year. The real sacrifice is in sharing the sustenance with the poor and needy. And it demonstrates our thankfulness to God for food.

Ironically enough, the countries that denounce Muslims as being "barbarians" for slaughtering animals during the Eid Al Adha holidays are themselves perpetrators of crimes against animals.

In her book, Slaughterhouse, Gail A Eisnitz reveals some of the atrocities committed in the US meat industry. She actually went undercover in many meat factories to discover horrors, which she depicts in her book. She learned that cows routinely receive a gun shot to the head as a means of slaughter. Chickens are boiled alive to remove their feathers. Hogs are also sent into large vats of boiling water where they drown to death. One worker even describes in the book one of his own inhuman acts, "One time I took my knife-it's sharp enough-and I sliced off the end of a hog's nose, just like a piece of bologna ... I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose."

Humans are the masters of this Earth. We are the only creatures with the gift of reason that helps us to choose between right and wrong. So while animal sacrifice is considered to be an act of charity in Islam, there are other places in the world where animals are certainly treated in a cruel manner. I think Western philosopher Immanuel Kant hit the nail on the head when he said," He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."

Sumayyah Meehan is a Kuwait-based American writer who embraced Islam. She can be reached at abidhjs@msn.com

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